Like many bloggers, I'm always happy to consider guest posts for My Writing Blog.
Guest posts provide fresh perspectives for my readers and extra publicity (and links) for the writer concerned.
If you are interested in contributing a guest post, here are a few guidelines to increase the chances that I will be able to accept your work.
LENGTH: Guest posts should normally be between 500 words (minimum) and 1000 words. However, I am willing to consider articles longer than this, if the subject matter merits it.
CONTENT: Guest posts should be suitable for my readership of writers and aspiring writers, and should provide practical advice and information they can apply in their own writing. The usual rules apply, i.e. guest posts should not be overtly promotional, with any self-publicizing text (and links) in a 'resource box' (or byline, as some prefer to call it) at the end. Please note that I do not allocate topics to guest bloggers - I expect them to come up with suitable ideas themselves, based on a careful study of the type of content I use on the blog.
ORIGINALITY: Your post must be original and must never have been published before on the Internet. You must also agree to not publish the post anywhere else in future (i.e. on your own blog, or as a guest post on other blogs).
LINKS: Up to two self-promoting links are allowed in the resource box at the end of the article. No more than one of these links should be SEO'd with anchor text, and this must be relevant to the article topic. Likewise, links are only allowed in the body of the article if they are clearly relevant to the article topic. UPDATE: Please note also that promotional links may only point to blogs or websites owned by the writer him/herself (and I will need to verify ownership details). Promotional links to third-party websites for SEO purposes are not permitted. For the reasons behind this, pleass scroll down to the bottom of this post.
FORMAT: Keep the formatting as simple as possible - plain text files (.txt) are ideal. Basic HTML is OK, but no smart quotes or other Word characters. If you don't want to use HTML for links, indicate where you want links to point by putting the destination URL in square brackets after the text concerned.
IMAGES: Images I can use to accompany guest posts are welcome, but you MUST provide proof that you have authorization to reproduce them. Otherwise, I will source a suitable image myself.
EDITING: I reserve the right to make minor edits to all guest posts, to ensure that they fit in with the general style and quality standard of my blog.
To submit guest posts, please use the Contact Me Form on this blog. If you prefer to submit by email, please use the Contact Me Form to make a request and I will send you my email address by return. I prefer not to publish my email address on the blog, to reduce the amount of spam email I receive.
If you have any queries, again, you are welcome to write to me via my Contact Me Form. I am also happy to receive guest post proposals and can give a general indication of whether any potential topic might be suitable or not. Please note that I cannot give a definite yes or no until I have seen the full article, however. I am equally happy to receive completed guest posts submitted 'on spec'.
I look forward to receiving your guest post soon! Photo Credit: Disparkys on Flickr. PLEASE NOTE: I am no longer accepting guest posts written on behalf of third-party websites and submitted solely for SEO purposes. My experience is that such articles tend to be poorly researched and written, and do not display the personal knowledge or passion for the subject matter that I require for my blog. There have also been issues over copyright infringement. As stated above, promotional links may only point to blogs or websites owned by the writer concerned, and I will need to verify this myself. Thank you for your understanding in this matter.
In the past four years Michael Stelzner, author of 'Writing White Papers' and Founder of Social Media Examiner hosted this important competition. Now he has handed on the baton to Leo Babauta and Mary Jaksch at Write to Done.
This year’s panel of judges includes some of the best-known bloggers in the writing world. They are:
To place your nomination, visit the contest web page and post a comment including the name and URL of the blog concerned and why you think it is worthy of winning the award.
Obviously, if anyone would like to nominate this blog, I'd be honored. My main purpose in writing, however, is to alert you to the fact that this is a brilliant opportunity to find out about other writer-bloggers you may not know about.
Already, just from reading the nominations so far, I've found a number of bloggers I plan to follow in future, and whom in several cases I have also signed up to follow on Twitter.
Nominations close on 1 December 2010, so if you wish to nominate a blog in the contest, you will need to do so in the next few days.
Today's guest author, Kate Willson, discusses five ways writers can develop their craft through reading. In my opinion, this is an important - and frequently under-rated - contributor to learning to write well.
Take it away, Kate...
* * *
There are tons of writing tip lists out there, and every (good) list suggests that writers read more to improve their craft. It's pretty obvious that your writing can be helped from reading as much as possible, but you can read a thousand books quickly and passively, without it having any effect on your writing whatsoever. The key to using reading to help your writing is to read carefully and to notice specific techniques that the writer employs in order to produce the effects that she does. Here are a few tips for reading like a writer.
1. Read slowly
Many readers race through books because they get caught up in the momentum and flow of the story. But tearing through a novel or a short story means you'll end up missing out on many details that you would have noticed had you read more slowly. Especially when you come across a passage or paragraph that's particularly arresting, stop and think about what you just read. Rereading is also very useful.
2. Take note of specific words and sentences
While reading slowly, be sure to note how the writer fashions sentences. Are they particularly long or particularly short? How are they constructed? Does the action occurring somehow mirror sentence construction? Underline sentences that are particularly striking and reread them when you've finished reading for the day.
3. Consider how the writer orders her paragraphs
Just as individual words and sentences should be considered as units that make up any narrative, looking at writing on the paragraph level is very important, too.
4. Look at character details
Writers are always told to develop their characters. This is done by inserting details into your story, about the character's past, about her physical appearance, or even about her home. No detail is accidental, and by learning to look for these character details while reading, we can learn how other writers have developed such well-rounded characters.
5. Read within and beyond your chosen genre
If you write primarily short fiction, be sure to read as many short stories as you can. If your chosen genre is sci-fi, then it makes sense to read both classics in the genre as well as what's being published now to get a better idea of what readers want. However, it's just as important to diversify your reading as much as possible, if only to understand that writers can draw inspiration from limitless sources. Reading writers from different genres, time periods, and cultures enables us to see that good writing can do practically anything - that it has no hard-and-fast rules, just examples.
These are just a few ways that writers can learn from the books and stories they read. For a more considered view on the subject, you may want to check out Reading like a Writer by Francine Prose, the book that inspired this list.
This guest post was contributed by Kate Willson, who writes on the topic of best online colleges. If you have any comments or questions for Kate, please post them below.
The contest will be judged by MWC's moderator team, with the exception of Country4Gal (Alice), who is forwarding entries to the other moderators to ensure anonymity, and therefore excluded from voting on this occasion.
For this challenge we are asking writers to submit a short story in exactly 100 words (no more, no less), including all three of the following words: anniversary, luminous, papaya (these exact words, no derivatives from them). In addition, you should give your story a title of up to 15 words. The words in the title will not count towards the 100 words in the story.
For the full rules, and details of how to submit your story, please visit this topic on the forum. You can also post any queries you may have about the contest there.
There is no fee to enter, but you will need to be a registered member of the forum and logged in to be able to enter. Registering at myWritersCircle is free, of course, and means you can then take part in all discussions, ask (and answer) writing-related questions, post excerpts of your work for feedback and constructive criticism, and much more.
The closing date for this challenge is Friday 10 December at 12.00 midday CST (Central Standard Time). So you have plenty of time to write and polish your story before submitting it!
I will post the results of the contest here and on the forum as soon as possible once it has been judged.
Jeff is a near-neighbour of mine, as well as being an old friend (regular readers of this blog may remember that we collaborated on a play called Sea View, which received its world premier in South Africa earlier this year).
Jeff is a talented writer with two excellent novels both published by Tindal Street Press: Painter Man and Box of Tricks. He is currently working on his third novel. In this post, he muses on the difficult task of creating your first draft...
* * *
Writing a first draft can feel as if you are travelling across a desert with no compass - liable to fall into quicksand, stand staring at mirages or go off course completely.
The first draft is a real challenge - for me the most difficult part of the writing process. I can't say I understand it, but I have managed to negotiate my way across that desert and will do so again at some point, still wondering whether it's wise to set off with nothing more than a bottle of brackish water and a 25 year old street map.
The first thing to say about first drafts is that they are just that. They aren't finished manuscripts. They aren't even fully worked-out stories in which everything fits together with perfect rationale. That comes later. I ought to say, too, that the technique I'm talking about works for me. If you are a highly organised and analytical writer who feels uncomfortable with the idea of a first draft being anything but almost complete, then you should ignore most of this and find what works best for you. If only there were simple rules that applied to everybody.
I've come to the conclusion that the purpose of the first draft is to get words on paper (or onto the computer). That might seem obvious, but it's amazing how many excuses one can come up with for not doing it - gardening, answering letters, doing the dishes and meeting friends all can seem more pressing than sitting down and putting the words down. But this is the point. You have to put the words on the paper.
Added to that is the question of how much planning to do. This is a constant tension during a first draft - too little planning and you'll feel as though you don't know what you're doing, too much and you'll feel as if the story's already written. At least it's reassuring to know that this is a tension most writers experience. In fact, I think you have to write the story before you can really know what it's about, and to do that you go back to the original principle, which is to put words on the paper! [Jane Smiley in her '13 Ways of Looking at the Novel' describes it thus: 'What you are aiming for is willing suspension of disbelief, and the first person who must suspend disbelief is yourself. Some beginning novelists have more disbelief to suspend than others, but even if your burden of disbelief is heavy, the only way to suspend it is to keep adding sentences to the ones you have already written.' Absolutely.]
I confess I still like to hand write at this point. I do it on one side of A4 lined paper (wide or narrow, doesn't matter!). The idea is that it leaves air and space around the words for commentary in the margins and on the back of the previous pages. These can be reminders of the 'Didn't H. get killed off earlier?' or 'How many people in this scene?' sort, or very brief notes to myself about where the story should go next. There's nothing worse than sitting down to write and realising you'd no idea what you intended to happen or why you left that sentence hanging at the word 'suddenly he heard...' Once you are over the hurdle of the first few sentences, the writing should start to flow again. You can even insert whole scenes this way, arrowed from where they should have gone in the text.
All that is fine in principle, but how does it happen in practice? Here are my top ten tools to take with you on your expedition:
• Keep writing. Don't stop. Try and enjoy each session for its own sake and don't worry about the long haul. • Give yourself finite chunks of time in which to write uninterrupted - 40 minutes, even, will do. Three of those in a day add up to two hours. Tell yourself: 'I'm going to write until 9.15 without interruption.' Don't answer the phone or the front door. • Plan and be firm about major things that would later affect the whole story if amended. Ages, obviously, are difficult to change, but does it matter that much if a character's hair colour only becomes apparent as you write? • Don't edit at all, except to make it comprehensible to yourself. • Don't obsess about tension, plot or even about characterisation. • It's OK to write things in a different order to how they will eventually be or to leave things out - but don't avoid the difficult heart of what you are trying to say. • Don't read back except to familiarise yourself with it, and try not to be judgemental. • Research just enough to carry you through the story. • Don't imagine people's comments on your work - your mother or your well-intentioned friend or the Times Literary Supplement. You can't please everybody. • Don't show it to anybody until you've got past the first draft stage. It's easy to be blown off course.
All this should get you to the point where you have a substantial chunk of work in whatever form you feel comfortable with. You should find now it doesn't seem so much like a trek across an endless desert; more as though you've come up with a clumsy piece of pottery or a chunk of dirty metal ore that's perfect for melting down, re-forming and polishing. Whatever it is, the completion of those pages with their own weight and substance gives a surprising boost of confidence. The novel or story isn't finished. In fact it's not even at the start of the end (or the end of the beginning!), but you understand now why you began it in the first place and you can see what needs to be done to make it presentable.
Now you'll need to look at it with new eyes (put it away for a while first if that helps), see what works and what doesn't work so well. The next steps will be to iron out the inconsistencies, correct the factual errors, improve the pace and drama and characterisation, and so on and so on. But that's another process. The important thing is that you've got the raw product in your hands. It needs work - but it has all the potential of pure gold.
* * *
Thanks very much to Jeff for an interesting and thought-provoking article. You can find out more about Jeff Phelps and his writing on his website at www.jeffphelps.co.uk.
And, of course, if you have any comments or questions for Jeff, feel free to post them below and he will be very happy to answer them.
Photo Credits - Top Image: 'caminante no hay camino' by bachbont on Flickr. Lower Image: Jeff Phelps - photo provided by the author.
I heard recently from Jane Smith, the editor of Words With Jam magazine, about a free writing contest they are running with a particularly attractive prize - a place on a four-day residential writing course in the lovely English county of Cornwall.
In her message, Jane says:
To celebrate our first birthday, we've decided to give a prize to the overall winner of this December's Comp Corner competition! I know, how good is that?
The prize, generously donated by Orion author Ruth Saberton, is a four day residential place on one of her Writers' Courses Cornwall (UK) retreats - http://www.writerscoursescornwall.co.uk. Included is all tuition, 5 star accommodation in Polperro, food at a local inn, drinks and a car parking permit.
All you have to send us is the last couple of lines of a story. That's it. Obviously, you have to have written it yourself and not lifted it from some famous piece of work. The lines can be from something you've already written or just made up for the competition, we don't mind. As ever, it can be funny, or clever, or moving, or just bloody good. 40 words max, in the body of an email, and no more than three goes per entrant. Get to it.
Entries should be emailed to danny-AT-wordswithjam.co.uk by no later than 14th January 2011. The winner will be announced in the February 2011 issue, where we will print the shortlist of ten, together with the overall winning entry.
As far as I know, this contest is open world-wide, but you will of course need to make your own way to Cornwall if you win. For more information on the course and competition, visit www.wordswithjam.co.uk/writersretreat.
Today's guest post is from Andy Gage, a professional copywriter and creator/producer of the Write2Profit website, which aims to help writers and marketers improve their copywriting skills.
In his article today, Andy talks about the importance of grabbing the interest of a website visitor as quickly as possible, to ensure that they stay on the site and read your message. He also sets out some practical guidelines for achieving this aim.
Over to Andy, then...
* * *
In the vast search areas of cyberspace, the average time a potential visitor will decide whether to check your website, stay and find out more, or move on to another, is...
Just under 3 seconds!
Unlike in the print world, where the marketer generally acted first - by seeking out potential new customers through advertising promotions, or targeted direct mail methods - now it's the potential customer who acts first, using the search engines to seek out what they want. And they want to get it FAST!
So assuming you've got your SEO (search engine optimization) and chosen keywords/site description right (and that's a weighty subject, worthy of a separate article) - when you attract visitors who feel your site may have what they want, or could solve a particular problem - or help them earn an extra income - what happens next..?
Your writing skills are 'key' to your site's success over the next 10 seconds...
First, your visitors need to be immediately attracted by the headline on your homepage. So it HAS to suggest an immediate BENEFIT... provide INFORMATION on what they're looking for...or offer a SOLUTION to their problem.
Of course the design of your web header, and the look, colours and layout of your site, need to also attract. But it's the words - including sub-heads, titled links, bullet-points, buttons and tabs, etc. - that will make them start exploring the site, and hopefully persuade them to stay awhile.
If, after they've read a bit, or clicked a tab and found more things that match their original search - or found an intriguing solution that they hadn't thought about - then they'll stay longer.
Then, within those 10 seconds, if they find it easy to navigate your site, their interest is enhanced, and their desire to find out more is increased - they're 'hooked' and will likely think about buying, signing up, or requesting further info.
BUT - if they are disenchanted with what they've found - they'll click off to start another site search. And then they're gone.
The right words will increase your chances of keeping your web visitors 'on-site'.
It's not about having flashing images, 'starburst' attention-getters (or clever 'mood' backgrounds some designers seem to love) - it's about the more basic human psychological common-sense elements, including:
Your visitors need to know WHO (or what kind of business) they're dealing with, so they can relate to you, and feel 'secure'. So a quick and straightforward presentation of WHAT you're offering, and HOW it can benefit them is what's needed.
Assuming you've done your homework on what your target visitor wants, and can match it with what you're offering, they'll feel comfortable, and motivated to stay - particularly if they feel you know your subject well. (Don't forget their reason for finding you is 95% self-interest, and 5% intrique!)
Once your visitor has settled for a while on your site, attracted by an appealing design, warm colours that fit the subject, quality graphics, and photos of products or services that reflect the benefits - it's here where your copy can build up trust, interest, and hopefully a desire to respond.
'I Want - So Show Me'
Good, benefit-led sub-heads, friendly descriptive copy and relevant links, interesting feature panels, and a structure that subconsciously leads your reader towards your call to action is the ideal 'copy plan'.
How to Get It?
A clear indication of what you want your visitor to do in the end, and why, plus details on how to buy, get more info, or sign up is important, and where good calls to action are vital. They also need strong 'because' reasons, and to be reminded of the benefits, and to see clear 'Click Here to Order' links - to buy, or get more information, or subscribe.
Provide a Reward
You'll also need to at least capture your visitor's email address, for future selling/upselling opportunities. But they'll need an incentive to provide this. This could be in the form of an 'insider's news' regular newsletter, or a short email training series, or a free e-book covering an area of specific interest to the customer. (The FREE incentive is now an expected 'must-have' in today's marketing arena!).
If your website copy can achieve all the areas covered above, and get valued customers coming back for more, your business will enjoy the success it deserves, and beat the '10 seconds hello/goodbye' syndrome of today's exciting/scary digital world!
Better Writing for Better Results
'A well-worded website will do well' is a true catchphrase. Good copywriting is all about understanding common-sense psychology and human benefit motivators. And improving writing skills is one of the three areas that our website Write2Profit is dedicated to helping people with.
As copywriters ourselves, we provide tips, articles and information on how to write better website copy, to get better results. We also offer news and reviews of earning extra income online, through writing opportunities, freelance connections, and paid writing outlets (many inspired by Nick Daws's excellent products and info). Through one of our Associates, we also offer expert advice on creating and developing the 'techie' side of a website, with free step-by-step video training, tutorials and resources.
Find out more about getting your website noticed, and keeping customers - plus writing techniques that will improve your website copy and make more money online - by visiting http://www.write2profitonline.com. Here you can also claim a free 120+ page e-book on how to quickly start and run a successful Internet business, choose two further free e-books, browse our e-book shop, and discover useful blogs, newsletters, free tech advice, and extra income opportunities - all dedicated to helping writers and marketers enjoy greater success with their online businesses.
* * *
Many thanks to Andy for an interesting article. In my opinion, the principles he sets out above are important for all writers with an online presence to understand. Even if you aren't otherwise involved in copywriting, you will still want to attract (and retain) readers for your blog or website, and following these guidelines should help you to do so.
If you're at all interested in copywriting, I highly recommend checking out the Write2Profit website.
And if you have any comments or questions for Andy, of course, please do leave them below!
Recently I've read a number of self-published novels. Without exception they were well written and entertaining. In every case, however, one little error in punctuation gave them away.
That error is the omission of the vocative comma. This is a subject I've talked about before on this blog. It's the comma that is required to offset the name (or other term used to refer to them) of a person being addressed directly.
"Are you ready yet, Sarah?"
"You can't park there, mate."
"Excuse me, George, are you listening?"
It may not seem of any great significance, and yet often the inclusion of the vocative comma is crucial to avoid ambiguity. For example, if I write, "What's on, Jayne?" I am clearly asking Jayne what's on (the television, presumably).
But if I inadvertently omit the vocative comma and write, "What's on Jayne?" it sounds as though something unpleasant has found its way on to her, probably without her knowledge. So the vocative comma really does play a very important role.
If you study any professionally published novel, I guarantee that you will find the vocative comma used consistently and correctly in dialogue. Equally, I'm afraid, if you read any self-published novel, there is a very good chance these commas will have been omitted, or used in a haphazard way.
So my tip for today is this: If you're self-publishing fiction - and especially if you're not able to hire a professional editor to 'fine tune' it - do take a moment to check the dialogue and insert vocative commas where they are needed. And if you're in any doubt how to use them, read and study carefully any novel from an established publishing house.
Get this one little thing right, and I guarantee your novel will look far more professional as a result!
It's a fundraising anthology aimed at helping victims of the floods in Pakistan, and I was delighted to help with selecting and editing the stories.
I'm pleased to reveal that the 120-page anthology is now on sale in paperback form from the Blurb online bookstore. The price is 4.95 UKP or the equivalent in your local currency (e.g. 8.22 USD when I just checked), plus shipping, which is at the same flat rate for up to three books.
I understand that an e-book version will also be published shortly for those who prefer this format - check on the Big Bad Media website for updates about this.
Having read all the stories in 50 Stories for Pakistan, I can confirm that in my opinion it really is an excellent and varied anthology. Some of the stories are hilarious, while others are touching and/or thought-provoking. If you like short stories - and none in this book is longer than 500 words - I am confident you will find plenty to enjoy in this collection.
As already mentioned, all profits from 50 Stories for Pakistan are going towards disaster relief in Pakistan, where in many areas help is still desperately needed. So by ordering now, not only will you get some great coffee-time reading, you will also be contributing to an excellent cause. Why not order several while you're about it, and give some away to friends and relatives?
* You might also like to check out my earlier post where I talked about my experiences helping to edit 50 Stories for Pakistan, and suggested a few guidelines writers might benefit from following when submitting work for future competitions and anthologies.
Today's guest post comes from Alex Toll, an editor who works for the freelancing website ResearchWritingCenter.com. Alex talks about some current trends in online freelancing, with particular reference to writers.
* * *
Despite the global economic recession, there remains at least one market where finding a job is easier than elsewhere - freelancing over the Internet. Freelancing is coming to dominate many industries, writing included.
With current technology allowing the creation of websites/blogs in minutes, the requirement for written content is growing at an astonishing rate. Writing, which provides the main means of attracting traffic to websites, is moving the whole field of online freelancing forward.
Not surprisingly, many writers are looking for ways to take advantage of this new market. The current recession has boosted the still-relatively-new concept of online communities of buyers and sellers of freelance talent. The Internet offers a wealth of such avenues for connecting, including of course ResearchWritingCenter.com.
The statistics that ResearchWritingCenter.com collects provide some insight into recent market changes. The demand for freelance writing services increased substantially in the six months from August 2009 to December 2009, compared to January 2009 to July 2009. The distribution of skills and qualifications also changed noticeably over that period.
The number of Native Speakers increased by 25.4% Of these additional Native Speakers, the distribution by academic qualifications breaks down as follows: * Native Speakers with a Maximum of a Bachelor's degree: 75.8% * Native Speakers with a Minimum of a Master's degree: 24.2%
The number of Non-Native Speakers increased by 47.5% Of these newly added Non-Native Speakers, their academic credentials are distributed as follows: * Non-Native Speakers with a Maximum of a Bachelor's degree: 63.3% * Non-Native Speakers with a Minimum of a Master's degree: 36.7%
As you can see, the fastest growing segment is composed of non-native speakers with a Bachelor's degree as their maximum. Why? One important reason is their lower fees. The quality of their work is not always optimal, but their lower prices are appealing to website owners on tight budgets.
The slowest growing share of the freelancer corps is Native Speakers with a Master's Degree or more. Obviously, these individuals can command a higher level of compensation. Not all clients want to pay this, of course, but the quality they can provide is unmatched.
Although freelancing is no longer a brand new business model on the web, there is still plenty of demand for writers. Being able to search efficiently and 'sell' yourself effectively to a potential client are the key skills needed.
How can you persuade a customer to hire you as their writing professional? One possibility might be to offer an introductory discount in order to secure future business.
If your product fulfills their needs, eventually your regular customers may feel more comfortable working with you than hiring someone new, even at a lower price. Inertia is everything! At that point, you might be able to increase your prices, if your customer has come to depend on your output.
Some freelancers persist at implausibly low levels of remuneration, either because their locales have exceedingly low costs of living, or perhaps because their limited writing skills prevent them from demanding more. On the other hand, it's also true that 'content is king' these days. If a freelancer possesses novel and relevant information, or a unique perspective - anything that can serve as appealing, useful, substantive core content - their writing skills may be less critical. A sound and intriguing set of ideas, as long as they are clearly enough expressed, can be edited later (perhaps by another freelancer) to meet the needs of the customer and the reader.
Freelancers need to be prepared to market their skills, or their unique knowledge. Professionalism is now a matter of remaining interesting to customers.
Social media interactions play a huge role in this new world. Networks such as LinkedIn and Twitter offer nearly endless possibilities for helping freelances reap the benefit of their profession, connecting independent professionals and clients, and creating a network of trustworthy contacts.
ResearchWritingCenter.com's own statistics reflect an increase in social network participation by our freelancers from 8% to 41% - a significant change (period: January 2009 to January 2010, based on internal statistics). These numbers are based on users who specifically reference their accounts. The actual numbers are doubtless greater.
We think this demonstrates the way that freelancers adjust to the demands of the market: information, interaction, authenticity, and availability.
I call it social professionalism - you need to be a professional, and you need to be professional and pro-active about how you market yourself using social media.
* * *
Thank you to Alex for some interesting comments. I was particularly intrigued by the notion that, 'Professionalism is now a matter of remaining interesting to customers.' I'd never quite thought of it that way before, but I can see that staying active in social networks should help ensure that you are uppermost in a potential client's mind when new jobs and opportunities come around.
If you are looking for online freelance writing work, ResearchWritingCenter.com is certainly worth checking out, and they are currently accepting applications from freelances worldwide.
If you have any comments or questions for Alex, please feel free to leave them below.
Today I'm delighted to bring you an interview with my old friend Alan Cash, whose second science-fiction novel The Xandra Function has just been published.
For some years Alan worked as a solicitor (that's an attorney for my American readers!) in Birmingham, England. He now divides his time between writing and working as an adult literacy tutor.
I first met Alan more years ago than I like to think, when we were both members of the Birmingham Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers Circle.
Both Alan's first novel, The Janus Effect, and The Xandra Function are (to borrow a cinematic term) 'high concept' novels, packed with intriguing speculations about the nature of reality.
To give you a flavour of The Xandra Function, here is a video of the book launch. It's quite short, but includes Alan both talking about the novel and reading an extract from it.
As ever, if you are receiving this post by email, you will probably need to visit my blog to watch the video.
And now, the interview...
ND: Welcome to my blog, Alan. Could you start by telling my readers a bit about your writing background and experience. How did you get started as a writer?
AC: Thanks very much, Nick. It's good to be here.
My mother may have been my earliest source of inspiration. When I was very young she used to make up stories about 'Pink Chicken and the Marmalade Cat', to such an extent that it drove my father bonkers!
At prep school I always used to do best in writing 'compositions', and the headmaster thought I might make a living as a journalist.
It then got left for quite a long time until I wrote my first novel as an escape from the non-creative drudgery of studying for my law exams. I sent it off to an agency but it never got anywhere.
I then used to write short stories to amuse myself, but my big boost was when my friend Chris Morgan (a published writer and now former Birmingham Poet Laureate) and his wife Pauline (who runs Cannon Hill Writers) started the Birmingham Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Group about 25 years ago.
It attracted some very fine writers, some of whom were already published (e.g. Freda Warrington, whose latest novel Elfland has just come out), and some who have gone on to be published (e.g. Justina Robson, who is currently engaged on another title in her Quantum Gravity series).
They have given me a tremendous boost, and over the years through writing short stories and another novel which nearly got published by Birmingham-based Tindal Street Press, I finally got my break with The Janus Effect, a time travel/love/search-for-identity story.
ND: Unlike The Janus Effect, the central character of The Xandra Function is a woman, Fran McCallister. Did you have any special reason for wanting to write this novel from a woman's viewpoint, and did it present any particular problems or challenges for you?
AC: The writers group I mentioned above started out roughly equal between the sexes, but as time went on the men dropped out and left just me! So, naturally I was heavily influenced by the feminine point of view. And as many of them were fantasy writers, I decided to have a go at writing what started out as a fantasy, and then the fantasy part became the virtual reality computer game of Marjalia, and the rest the 'real' world.
Several of Freda's books gave me a real insight into how women thought and felt. Fran is petite, about 4 ft 10, so she also has problems associated with this, being a short, plumpish redhead in a male-dominated company she works for. I have found that women in particular really identify with her.
I also have a number of petite female friends, so I have seen how they react to things (for example, how they sit in furniture made for 'normal' height people), so it was really interesting to explore this.
With all this wealth of experience that had seeped into me over the years, it was relatively easy to show how Fran copes with this and uses it to her advantage.
ND: The Xandra Function is set in the world of computer game design. Did you do a lot of research on this, since as far as I know you have never worked in this field?
AC: I looked at quite a few games online to see how the characters moved and what the graphics were like, but most of them seemed to be bang-bang-shoot 'em -ups or car chases or horror monster menacing the hero (Lost Planet 2, Starcraft 2, etc.), so they didn't really fit my type of game. The only one that was vaguely relevant was Prince of Persia, but practically every route in that game is straightforward.
Marjaalia diverges quite a lot in that it involves all five senses and has two major female characters, both with their own conflicting agendas: Sirios the Thieftaker, who is trying to find out who murdered her brother, and An-Ra the Shapeshifter, who has to bring Sirios before the Emperor in three days, otherwise he will put her lover to death. In the second version Fran is working on, all the characters are to some extent sentient within the parameters of the game. All the characters are powered by nanotechnology, which allows them to learn from their experiences and evolve. Fran gives the new version to her lover to hide it from her employers - and then the game gets into him...
ND: Do you have any tips or advice for other aspiring science fiction writers you would like to pass on?
AC: Of course. Here are my top ten tips for your readers...
1. Start small. So many people start a novel and never finish it. I have met lots of people who have written the starts of up to five novels and never finished them. Try writing short stories and make sure you finish them. There is a tremendous feeling in just having completed something. If you are determined to write a novel - finish it! It may not be very good, but at least you will have a body of work behind you. Resist the urge to keep going back and polish your opening chapters - you will never finish!
2. Keep at it. Never give up. You need to develop the hide of a rhinoceros to cope.
3. Listen to criticism, good or bad.
4. Join a writing group and get feedback. Friends never want to hurt your feelings!
5. Failing this (or in addition), pay to have it looked at by a literary consultancy, preferably one with links to an agent.
6. Attend at least one writers' conference a year and network, network, network!
7. Build a website or get someone to do it for you. Prospective publishers can instantly judge the quality of your work and decide whether they want to take it further. Mine is alancash.co.uk
8. Be disciplined. A friend of mine who is now a very successful writer went home every night from work and wrote 2,000 words every night for four years! Half of what you write you may throw away. It doesn't matter. It all useful. It's all a learning process.
9. When you've finished, put it away in a drawer for a month and then revisit it. Rewriting is the real writing.
10. If it bores you, it will bore the reader. You must be excited by what you read. There is no right way to write a novel - some people plan, some people just go on a journey with their characters. Just finish the thing!
ND: One question I like to ask all my blog interviewees - could you tell me your three favourite websites and the reasons you like them?
1. Author Advance (used to be LitMatch) - keeps you up to date with news, and is a great resource for researching agents and publishers and what people think of them.
2. Kudos - great site for finding writing competitions to go in for.
3. Any SF-related site, such as the BSFA's online magazine Matrix that keeps you up to date with what's happening in the SF/Fantasy scene.
ND: Do you have any other novels or other projects in the pipeline?
AC: I am currently writing a horror-type SF novel, based on my childhood home in Wales. It's just across the road from the sea...
Fran may return. The novel is left open for a possible sequel. Someone recently commented to me that Fran's lover, Richard Cabot, has a lot of unresolved issues with his wife, Stephanie! And how will Sirios go on developing?
ND: Finally, I know that in the past you've been involved in short film making, so I wondered if you'd like to tell my readers a bit about that?
AC: I have produced, written and directed five amateur SF movies (some people tell me that my novels are a bit filmic!): Vortex (SF short story); The Ripples Beneath - an alternate world fantasy based on my first ever novel (unpublished); The Door Home (a time paradox story); The Felgarn Strategy (fantasy); and The Eyes of Heaven and Hell (time travel SF), made with friends or the local dramatic society.
The Felgarn Strategy was quite a big undertaking, lasting 40 minutes, in which we hired the gardens and exterior of Eastnor Castle for £11! One day, quite soon, I would like to make another. My dream would be to do The War of The Worlds properly, as per the original book, not the first hideous film nor the passable second one.
Many thanks to Alan for his comprehensive and interesting answers to my questions. And in case anyone is wondering, as an occasional actor myself, I have indeed appeared in one of Alan's films - though as I was wearing a monster costume the whole time, it's highly unlikely anyone would have recognised me!
I've recently finished reading The Xandra Function and can confirm that it is an exciting, fast-moving novel of ideas, with some interesting and believable characters (and, OK, some rather unbelievable ones!). I could well imagine it being made into a movie, though maybe not by Alan himself, as it would need a massive special effects budget (and better actors than me, no doubt).
If you would like to know more about Alan Cash, please do visit his website. And if you have any comments or questions for Alan, feel free to post them below and he will be very happy to answer them.